Nicolas Venne on reeling horror audiences in with Poiscaille


Nicolas Venne on reeling horror audiences in with Poiscaille

In the short film Poiscaille, we meet a woman, fishing in a swamp. When her rod catches something, she quickly reels it in – only to discover that what she’s caught isn’t the fish that she expected.

Nicolas Venne created Poiscaille as his thesis film, the final assignment of a three year animation program at Cégep du Vieux Montréal. Inspired by The Thing, Alien and the Cthulhu mythos, he knew he wanted his thesis film to fall into the horror animation genre. 

We caught up with Nicolas to learn about his experience in the animation program, the inspiration for their film, his thoughts on horror animation, and the process of making Poiscaille

Poiscaille is competing in animation festivals and is not currently available to stream online. Readers can find samples from the film in Nicholas Venne’s animation reel.

Poiscaille is the thesis film for your animation program at Cégep du Vieux Montréal. What prompted you to join the program, and what has your experience in it been like? 

Nicolas: I first learned about the program while doing research on which Cégep I would go to. I was looking for programs focusing on animation or something similar, that would inspire me and that would not cost an astronomical amount of money. 

When I saw that Cégep du Vieux Montréal had a 2D animation program, I immediately fell in love with the idea of going. I was attracted to their program because I knew it would help develop not only my animation skills, but also my character design and visual development skills. 

After three amazing years in the program, I can confidently say that it couldn’t have been any better. The atmosphere, the teachers, and the other students that all become friends very quickly made it a place that I was always excited to go to. I now know that I made the right choice to work in this field and I will cherish my time at Cégep du Vieux Montréal for all my life.

Colour script from Poiscaille, provided by Nicolas Venne.

Tell us what Poiscaille is about, and what inspired the film’s dark themes?

Nicolas: My thesis film Poiscaille is the story of a fisherwoman in a swamp that, while doing chores, catches something with her fishing rod. She quickly discovers that what she’s caught is a weird fish creature that has a human face. Unfortunately, the strange creature doesn’t have good intentions. It quickly attacks her, transforming her into the same kind of creepy fish. 

I had this story in mind in my first year of the animation program. What inspired it was a mixture of different horror influences, including John Carpenter’s The Thing, Alien and H.P Lovecraft. The finished film isn’t quite how I originally imagined it in terms of setting and character, but the fish is the same.

Weirdly, there was a movie that I saw when I was very young called Help! I’m a Fish that I think subconsciously inspired the story, even though I forgot it existed. I didn’t remember that film until my brother told me my idea reminded him of it.  Now that I think about it, the end of that movie definitely scared me enough to make me remember it in the back of my mind – but it’s also why I like it a lot.

Concept art of the strange fish provided by Nicolas Venne.

What attracted you to the horror animation genre?

Nicolas: I love horror movies and horror stories in general, especially ones that aren’t about jumpscares. So this genre was a perfect fit for my thesis film. Making a horror animation for my thesis was a bit of a challenge, because I wanted it to be as weird as possible, tell a story, but be thirty seconds long.

I love when horror films use atmosphere, strange concepts, and disturbing visuals to convey a weird feeling. It was also a big challenge to make an eerie atmosphere in the limited time we had, but I think it worked out with the help of my assigned compositor Émie Labranche. 

I agree that horror is not something you see a lot in the 2D animation industry, especially feature films since there are very few nowadays and I wonder why because the potential is enormous with all the possibilities we have to create a horrifying story. A goal I set myself after finishing Cégep is to try my best to create more horror animations to maybe inspire others to do the same to bring this genre back.

What was the most exciting part of the filmmaking process for your short?

Nicolas: The most exciting part to me was when I got to see the first finished scene, with all the highlights and effects. I also really enjoyed the rough animation and visual development part. Getting to see the characters I created start to move and become real was super fulfilling. Searching for colour palettes and making a colour script is also something I surprisingly enjoyed a lot, and will definitely do more of in the future.

Initial character designs of the fisherwoman provided by Nicolas Venne.

The character and creature designs in Poiscaille are super impressive. What inspired the designs, and what techniques did you use to implement them? 

Nicolas: Thank you, I am glad they were noticed. When I first started on the film I had a much more realistic style planned, when it came to the proportions and the way my character looked.

After redrawing her multiple times, I realized it was not very efficient to draw her realistically. I decided to make her more angular, just like the backgrounds, to have that German expressionism feel. The technique I used consisted of redrawing her as much as possible to eliminate unnecessary details. 

The fish stayed pretty much the same as the start except for the shape of the face, but overall the amount of details was something I felt like I needed to keep if I wanted to make it as gross and weird as possible. My inspiration for the fish was a fusion of a lot of artists I follow and since I am always learning new things I incorporate a tiny bit of every one of them.

Were there any challenges in animating Poiscaille? How did you overcome them? 

Nicolas: It was mostly smooth sailing! The trickiest part was animating the walk, when the protagonist gets close to the fishing rod on the third shot. It was tough because of the low angle perspective, and because a walk was not something I had animated before. 

Making her feel like she gets closer while slightly changing the perspective of her body and face was a lot harder than I anticipated, but I think it worked out and I’m glad I stuck with it. Something that helped was working on one part of the body at a time so that I didn’t get overwhelmed with the amount of subtle changes that had to happen.

Comparison of rough animation and production stills provided by Nicolas Venne.

What was your favourite or most helpful feature when using Toon Boom Harmony to make Poiscaille? 

Nicolas: There are many Harmony features that were helpful! The gradient node, the shift and trace tool, and the whole node view system got a lot easier the more I used it. But the features that I want to give most credit to are the cleanup functions.

I am not someone that particularly likes doing cleanup, but Harmony made it so much easier since you can change the shape of a line. You don’t have to redraw it every time. This allowed me to make very close inbetweens when the movements were subtle, such as the beginning of the film when she turns around. The fact that you can also add your own texture to the line afterwards made it very easy to use and made for a great addition to the style I wanted.

Do you have any advice for up and coming animators that are working on their student films?

Nicolas: Working with others and helping each other is so important when you’re making your student film. The amount of advice, skills, and motivation you can access just by just asking others to review your work is astronomical. Everyone has a different point of view on art and animation so it makes you become better as an artist to hear their thoughts, while also pushing the others to outdo themselves since they are also going through the same process. 

Another thing I would recommend is to not underestimate the importance of organization and planning. It helps tremendously to have short term goals to work toward, since it makes your film seem much smaller and more in reach. Finally, I know almost every artist says it, but practice is the key. Even when doing your film you will see the amount of progress you made by just animating or doing backgrounds over and over again for every scene.

A shot comparison from Poiscaille, before and after applying the gradient node in compositing to add depth to the scene.

What’s next for you in animation?

Nicolas: Right now I am looking for work in the industry as a traditional animator. I’m also working on a future short film, and maybe a game idea. The short film is an idea I had as a plan B for my thesis film, but realized it wouldn’t fit well in thirty seconds. I’m now picking the idea back up.

There is also a short film project I wanted to do with friends from my class. It also involves horror themes, so I am looking forward to working on that. All of this is very time consuming, so in the meantime I’m continuing to work on my portfolio and draw as much as possible.

  • Want to see more from Nicolas Venne? You can follow Nicolas on ArtStation.
  • Interested in using Harmony for your thesis film? Students can qualify for up to 84% off Toon Boom Animation’s software.

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